“What kinds of lizards can you find in Montana?”
I was amazed by the number of lizards in the United States – well over 150 species! Some species live only in a small area, and some are widespread over hundreds of miles.
Today, you’ll learn about 4 different kinds of lizards in Montana.
#1. Common Sagebrush Lizard
- Sceloporus graciosus
- 1.9 to 3.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is gray or brown with a light stripe on each side, a black bar at the shoulder, and blue patches on the belly.
- Unusually long, almost spidery back claws.
This species of spiny lizard lives in southern Montana.
Common Sagebrush Lizards are typically found in sagebrush fields, as their name suggests, but you can also find them in grasslands and among dunes. They are most active during daylight hours.
Common Sagebrush Lizard Range Map:
These spiny lizards eat a wide variety of insects and even scorpions! They hibernate during winter when temperatures drop, and food becomes scarce.
The easiest way to tell if you’ve found a Common Sagebrush Lizard is to look at its belly. The brilliant blue spots on its throat and abdomen are a dead giveaway!
#2. Western Skink
- Plestiodon skiltonianus
- Adults are up to 8.5 inches long.
- This species has a broad brown stripe with black edges on the back, bordered in white on each side.
- The tail is normally pale blue or gray, but the throat and underside of the tail turn red-orange during the breeding season.
- Young Western Skink’s tails are brilliant blue.
The Western Skink prefers to live in grassland or pine-oak forests near rocky streams and hillsides. This species primarily eats insects and spiders.
You might have trouble finding Western Skinks in Montana!
They only live in the western part of the state, and they are very secretive! They spend most of their time under rocks or in burrows.
Like some other lizard species, the Western Skink is capable of autotomy, which is the severing of its own tail when it’s under threat. Once the tail detaches, it continues to move and wriggle, distracting the predator so the skink can escape. Now THAT is a unique way of dealing with stress!
WARNING: If you’re squeamish, this video might not be for you. Please remember, the skink does this as a defensive measure and isn’t harmed.
There are three subspecies of the Western Skink.
- Skilton’s Skink, P.s. skiltonianus, is the most widespread subspecies.
- Great Basin Skink, P.s. utahensis, tends to live in more rocky areas.
- Coronado Skink, P.s. interparietalis is only found in the southern half of San Diego County in the US.
#3. Greater Short-Horned Lizard
- Phrynosoma hernandesi
- 1.75 to 4.75 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is beige, tan, or reddish, speckled with white. There are large brown blotches on the neck and sides.
- Horns are short and stubby, located on the back of the head and each side.
Greater Short-Horned Lizards prefer to live in Montana in shortgrass prairies and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Their habitat is generally semi-arid, with long dry spells and infrequent but heavy rain.
Greater Short-Horned Lizard Range Map:
Ants are a primary food source for Greater Short-Horned Lizards, but they have a varied diet. They also eat grasshoppers, beetles, wasps, caterpillars, spiders, and even snails!
This species is one of only two types of horned lizards in Montana that gives birth to live young!
And you may not believe this, but they can produce up to 48 babies in one birth!
#4. Northern Alligator Lizard
- Elgaria coerulea
- 2.75-5.5 inches long from snout to vent (length does not include the tail).
- Coloring is variable: gray, olive, brown, rust-red, greenish, or blue are common.
- Dark crossbands are common, and sometimes a middle stripe is present.
Northern Alligator Lizards in western Montana are almost certainly the Northwestern subspecies.
The four subspecies all have different characteristics and different ranges. If you find a Northern Alligator Lizard in the wild, the easiest way to tell its subspecies is by location.
All the subspecies prefer woodland and forested areas in a damp, cool climate. They eat insects, ticks, centipedes, slugs, and spiders. Yum!
The four subspecies of the Northern Alligator Lizard are:
- San Francisco Alligator Lizard (E.c. coerulea) Large, dark blotches appear on the back and sometimes look like crossbands.
- Shasta Alligator Lizard (E.c. shastensis) The most variable in color and most colors besides brown and gray are Shasta Alligator Lizards.
- Northwestern Alligator Lizard (E.c. principis) Smaller than other subspecies with a broad, tan stripe on the back.
- Sierra Alligator Lizard (E.c. palmeri) The only visual difference is the number of scale rows on the back – location is your best tool for identification.
Do you need additional help identifying lizards?
Try this field guide!
Which of these lizards have you seen in Montana?
Leave a comment below!
Also, if you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides!